A year ago, Ivan Nova came to Yankees camp coming off a 16-4 season and expected to hold down the No. 3 spot in the starting rotation.
This spring, Nova will have to outpitch David Phelps, a "veteran" of 33 major-league appearances, just to squeak into the final starting spot.
"Last year was a really bad year for me," said the perenially-cheerful right-hander, who admitted his confidence took almost as many hits as his pitches last season, when he sagged to 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. "I'm not going to lie, sometimes it's frustrating when you're trying to do your job and you can't. I was putting my work in, I was working hard the whole year and I don't get the results that I want."
Asked to pinpoint the root of his problem, all Nova could offer was, "I got hit."
And when someone offered a positive note, that Nova's strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio was a more than respectable 8.1, Nova shot back, "I don't know how. I don't worry about strikeouts. One thing I like to do is win games but I don't want to win games with an ERA like I had. Thank God that I'm pitching for the Yankees right now, because we score a lot of runs. If I was pitching that way with another team, maybe I'm not in the big leagues."
Still, Nova said he is "confident" that he will win the competition with Phelps, who went 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 11 starts as a rookie last year.
"I would say I'm in a fight," he said. "For me, that's the mental that I need to have, but I'm confident at the same time that I'm going to be there. I cannot sit here and let things happen. I've got to go and fight for it."
QUESTION: Who do you think will be the winner of Nova-Phelps? And what do you do with the "loser?"